What’s in store for college enrollment if affirmative action ends?

"Affirmative action in higher education doesn't just benefit individuals from underrepresented groups. It benefits the entire university," says author Dr. Nika White.

Last week, U.S. Supreme Court justices heard challenges to race-based college admissions in two cases involving Harvard College and the University of North Carolina. Now, the future of affirmative action rests in their hands.

The Republican majority court addressed concerns over both colleges’ admissions processes with a statement made by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2003 during the Grutter v. Bollinger case: “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

However, the court’s liberal justices presented strong arguments.

“If you’re Black, you’re more likely to be in an under-resourced school,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “You’re more likely to be taught by teachers who are not as qualified as others. You’re more likely to be viewed as having less academic potential.” And according to Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, it makes little sense to consider whether applicants are parents, disabled or veterans but not take their race into account.

In the North Carolina case, the plaintiffs argue that the university discriminated against Asian and white applicants by favoring those who are Black, Hispanic and Native American. However, the plaintiffs of the Harvard case claim that the college discriminates against Asian American students.

Many worry that scrapping affirmative action will pose issues of diversity across the nation’s higher education institutions, including Dr. Nika White, author of “Inclusion Uncomplicated: A Transformative Guide to Simplify DEI” and president of Nika White Consulting.

“It’s difficult to be the only one or few people of color at a college or university,” she says. “From being either overtly or subliminally told you must represent your race or educate others about diversity to maneuvering a different cultural system to making new friends that may not understand your unique experiences growing up, not having a network of individuals who share your story can be daunting. Not having students with similar experiences may make people of color feel like they don’t belong, which may decrease degree completion and increase transfers.”

Reserving spots for incoming college students based on their race was ruled unconstitutional in the 1978 Supreme Court case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. However, colleges may consider race in admissions using “compelling interest.” Universities can argue that creating a diverse student body presents educational benefits for all students.

“Affirmative action in higher education doesn’t just benefit individuals from underrepresented groups. It benefits the entire university,” says White. “A diverse student body enriches the social environment while also bringing unique perspectives to classroom conversations. Eliminating race-based college admissions will have devastating results, not just for the students whose parents, grandparents, etc. have been discriminated against for decades and denied equal education, but also for the students who will have the ability to broaden friendship circles and their viewpoints through a diverse student body.”

Affirmative action, she explains, is a way to “level the playing field” to ensure everyone has access to higher education, including those from underrepresented backgrounds.

Moving forward, White believes that colleges should be more open to transparency about their admissions processes.

“More awareness around affirmative action is needed,” she says. “Affirmative action is the right thing to do after decades of segregation or outright preventing individuals from attaining education, so why hide why and how it’s being used? This may alleviate some of the questions or issues surrounding affirmative action, who it applies to and how it affects other students.”

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://universitybusiness.com
Micah Ward is a University Business staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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